For economic gains, clickbait sites try to lure audience with clickbait titles and visual effects. Their motivation can be explained by the very interest to get economic benefit. However, there are exceptions to this general rule, when information of political nature is discreetly placed in sensational media content. Furthermore, some links contain malign programs too, which steal personal data of customers without their consent.
On 23-24 April 2020, clickbait sites abcnews.com.ge and timesnews.ge published stories with almost identical titles: “It’s high time to cooperate and restore relations with Georgia! The issue of Abkhazia and Ossetia must re-enter the discussion!” and “Breaking news! It became known that something unbelievable happened. It’s high time to cooperate and restore relations with Georgia! The issue of Abkhazia and Ossetia must re-enter the discussion!” Similar information was also published on 24 April, without indicating a source, by a pro-Russian Facebook page “Stalin,” online news outlet infocovid-19.ru and clickbait sites arxi.ge and geomediapress.ge. The latter’s Facebook profile, “Geomediapress News,” shared its own article titled “Putin: we have very warm attitudes towards Georgians” in the following Facebook groups: Rustavi 21 / Rustavi 21, Georgia Sakartvelo, Kakha Kaladze Tbilisi Mayor.
All these publications contain identical message that Putin spoke about restoring relations between Russia and Georgia, including about revision of visa regime and the issue of Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia. The stories, not supported by any sources, with almost identical titles and illustrated with Putin’s photo, create an impression that this issue may be resolved in favor of Georgia.
Sources are indicated only in two cases, though both sources are fictional and irrelevant. For example, the source indicated by abcnews.com.ge directs a reader to an advertisement of Portuguese tourism agency, while the “first-hand source” indicated by timesnews.ge at the end of the article is the personal blog of Giorgi Melikidze, “George’s Blog,” which, in turn, does not rely on any source while Giorgi Melikidze is the owner of abcnews.com.ge and timesnews.ge.
It is worth to note that on his blog, Giorgi Melikidze places the information about Putin alongside apolitical blogposts which concern his education, work, entertainment and Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia II.
Infocovid-19.ru contains another story, published on 25 April, with a misleading title “We have lost Georgians’ friendship and affection, changed 4 million Georgians into 300 thousand Abkhazs,” illustrated with Putin’s photo. The clickbait title and photo create an impression that such statement was made by Putin, though the content of the story is different and informs that a political scientist, Andrey Nikulin, in his televised appearance on Rossiya 1 made the following comment: “If Russia wants to sort out political relations with Georgia, it should allow refugees from Abkhazia to return to their homes.”
Apart from publishing clickbait materials about Putin, the abovementioned portals, at various times, spread other disinformation and misleading content of political nature, which were shared by other actors in a coordinated manner.
|abcnews.com.ge; 27 March 2020||Is Trump impressed by Georgia’s outcome in the fight against coronavirus?|
|abcnews.com.ge; 23 March 2020||Cloned abcNews: How Many Million Lari Have Been Allocated by Ivanishvili for Healthcare?|
|abcnews.com.ge; 7 April 2020||Disinformation by Fake BBC, CNN, ABC about Harvard Professor Allegedly Arrested for Creating COVID-19|
|timesnews.ge; 15 August 2017||Neither the MIA, nor any Other Independent Source Confirms the Fact of Turks Beating Up a Priest in Batumi|
|geomediapress.ge; 28 October 2017||Fake News Image Depicts Turkish Citizen, Who Jumped from Hotel Window|
|geomediapress.ge; 9 February 2018||Manipulations about the West Allegedly Offering Georgia NATO Membership Excluding Occupied Territories|
Who spreads information about Putin’s peace initiative?
As the table provided below shows, the majority of webpages have been registered recently, in March and April (infocovid-19.ru, abcnews.com.ge, arxi.ge). Stories on infocovid-19.ru are shared by Vaaviki profile, while abcnews.com.ge and timesnews.ge are owned by Giorgi Melikidze. arxi.ge is registered in the name of Sabir Kiarimov who simultaneously owns two clickbait sites: gadacema.ge and gasagebia.ge. geomediapress.ge is registered in the name of Eter Baladze.
|Vaaviki ?||გიორგი მელიქიძე||საბირ კიარიმოვი||ეთერ ბალაძე|
|abcnews.com.ge – 20.03.2020||arxi.ge
According to Whois Lookup information, infocovid-19.ru was registered on 23 March 2020 and its IP address is in Moscow. The site hides virus/malign program JS/Adware.Chogdoul which steals customers’ personal information, IP addresses and other data without their consent.
Information on infocovid-19.ru is spread by Vaaviki profile; search of information with the name Vaaviki on Google search engine results in two clickbait sites where information is placed by the same profile. These are: news.mins.ge and viki.ge. News.mins.ge contains various conspiracies about coronavirus and 5G as well as information published by vaaviki.
viki.ge and infocovid-19.ru have almost identical interface. On this site, which was registered on 28 January 2020, materials are published by vaaviki profile. It also includes a fake news claiming that a Harvard University professor was arrested for engineering COVID-19.
The owner of abcnews.com.ge and timesnews.ge is Giorgi Melkadze who is also mentioned as a partner in the W-O-M company, a legal name of timesnews.ge. According to the data of Public Registry, this organization was established by Koba Vasadze on 7 April 2015; the changes was made on 13 December 2016, when Koba Vasadze transferred 40% of his shares into the ownership of Giorgi Melikidze for free. Giorgi Melikidze is also mentioned in GM Corporation LLC.
Arxi.ge was registered on 22 April 2020 and its owner is sabir kiarimov who also owns two clickbait sites gadatsema.ge and gasagebia.ge.
Geomediapress.ge was registered on 4 August 2016 and the owner is Eter Baladze.